an exploration into the design aesthetics of the Antwerp 6+1
The ‘Six’ and Margiela (referred to as the 6+1) graduated from the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy in 1980, '81 and '82.
By the end of the decade, Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene and Marina Yee were championed by the international fashion press.
They were praised for the way they presented a complete image, how they marketed themselves, and their total control over every detail.
Although each of them developed their own signature, and they have gone their own ways creatively and commercially, the name ‘Antwerp Six’ remains a hallmark to today.
Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer for the New York Times, commented on the division of styles in Paris in 1991:
With half the fashion world in Chanel uniforms, there was bound to be a youthful rebellion. One group of seven Belgian designers has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and three of them – Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dirk Van Saene – showed collections here this week.
The Belgians specialize in turning clothing inside out, highlighting the inner structure and seaming as forms of embellishment proudly worn on the outside.
The rough edges, combined with more traditionally cut suiting in the work of this group of Belgian designers is comparable to that of Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto a decade earlier.
Similar to the Japanese, the Six+1 designers came to be followed, bought, and admired internationally. The nineties put Belgium on the world fashion map.
In order to create a total look, Bikkembergs showed his first men’s ready-to-wear collection during Paris fashion week for Spring/Summer 1989.
Dirk Bikkembergs’s brand evolved to become a pioneer in the marriage of sports and fashion, with collections stretching from high performance footwear and tailored 'sports couture' garments to a full range of garments and accessories inspired by the athletic lifestyle.
Soccer is by far the most popular sport and Bikkembergs understood that famous soccer players are the most popular contemporary idols. This led him to, in 2001, make a statement by showing his collection in the soccer stadium of San Siro in Italy, far removed from the fashion weeks.
Here he presented his first soccer inspired collection with the iconic logo of a dribbling soccer player.
The fashion house then had three main lines: the luxurious Sport Couture line created for athletes in their private time, the more accessible Bikkembergs collection, and Bikkembergs Sport.
One of the challenges was precisely to design a suit with a couture cut that featured the comfortable feeling of a tracksuit, executed in high-tech materials.
In 2003, he was appointed official designer for Inter Milan.
Two years later, in 2005, he presented his collection in the largest stadium in Europe, Camp Nou in Barcelona.
In 2011, the Dirk Bikkembergs brand was sold to Zeis Excelsa SpA, an Italian company that had previously manufactured the company’s footwear under license.
The cut of the garments results from a thorough investigation into suggesting the illusion of movement even when the wearer is standing still: how to un-balance the body and how to ‘cut’ a garment so that it could challenge gravity?
In every collection her preference for generating tension by means of contrasts is evident.
Black and white are recurring elements, as Demeulemeester communicates in terms of shadows and shapes, rather than colour and decoration.
The androgynous silhouettes similarly demonstrate Demeulemeester’s preference for generating tension by means of contrasting elements in her personal combination of delicate with rougher materials.
For W.&L.T., Van Beirendonck developed a new aesthetic, one in which he could combine his fascination for technology, high-tech materials, multimedia, and experimentation with sharp, critical statements.
Van Beirendonck enjoyed experimenting with high-tech fabrics and such innovations as neoprene, reflecting fabrics, and glow-in-the-dark materials.
Van Beirendonck has a predilection for science fiction, the future, the supernatural, spirituality, and rituals ranging from ethnic initiation rites to fetishism and S&M.
In his world, fashion may be fun, but he does not shy away from controversial themes and social statements in order to communicate his social concerns.
The collection, Stop Terrorizing our World (S.T.O.W.) (Autumn/Winter 2006–2007) is one of Van Beirendonck's most socially engaged:
I created characters on the backs of the models. In my view, they represent the protagonists that are important in our contemporary world. Mr. Greedy for example stood for America and the fast food industry, Presidents Bush and Reagan, fighting and war.
The production of this very embroidery is outsourced to specialized workshops near Calcutta where nearly three thousand people work for him.
For Dries Van Noten, 'Made in India' became a synonym for quality craftsmanship.
He likes to imagine the story of a personage who would wear his pieces and how he or she would combine them.
Dries Van Noten often uses what defines the differences between genders to tackle the limits of dress codes:
Men’s garments are made with fabrics regarded as feminine such as lace, while masculine cuts are used in the women’s collections.
These collections share an exotically elegant aesthetic, characterised by expert tailoring and sensual layers of contrasting texture. His extensive and varied collections are presented in fashion shows in unexpected locations that always relate to the theme of the collection.
DRIES VAN NOTEN. INSPIRATIONS (February 13 - July 19 2015) at MoMu in Antwerp.
In 2015, Dries Van Noten disclosed his oeuvre in an exhibition for the very first time in his career. Not a classical retrospective, but an intimate journey into his artistic universe, revealing the singularity of his creative process, which illustrated his numerous sources of inspiration.
In the fashion world, Van Saene follows his own path: since the creation of his first store Beauties & Heroes in 1982, his breakthrough as the first winner of the Golden Spindle contest in 1983, and his latest store DVS, he follows his own rhythm in terms of collections, shows and seasons.
Van Saene sells where and when he wants.
As a one-man business, he has no oppressive shareholders, tight profit margins or a big team, but he designs qualitative and artistic creations that give him a lot of satisfaction: the ultimate luxury.
He presented his first show in Paris in 1990, capturing the spirit of the times, showing fashion the way it existed on the street, ever changing and ever different.
Important sources of inspiration include the work of Louise Bourgeois, the film “Grey Gardens” and its main character Edie Bouvier Beale, tribal motifs and masks and artist Ellsworth Kelly.
The world of haute couture is an important reference: bows, embroidery, and trompe l'oeil motifs refer to the grandeur of the French luxury houses and playfully deconstructs it, for example in the 2D Fake Couture collection for Autumn/Winter 1998-1999.
She has collaborated with the Belgian brand Lena Lena and with Dirk Bikkembergs.
Design is and remains a personal journey for Marina Yee. She maintains her own workshop where she makes one-off pieces, often recycling elements from secondhand clothes, giving them a second life, as a commentary on the endless consumer cycle of fashion.
Her style is idiosyncratic and personal, humanity and creativity always come first. She never liked big gestures and prefers to concentrate on content and quality.
Craftsmanship, tailoring, and a powerful female are key.
She is committed to the new generations of fashion designers and teaches at the School of Arts KASK in Ghent.
Maison Martin Margiela became known for its conceptual collections, a predilection for deconstruction and recycled materials, shows at unusual locations, and a unique communication style. After founding his own label, he never made a single public appearance.
Nor did he give any interviews in his own name. Interviews were responded to by fax in the first-person plural, as a gesture of respect to the teamwork underlying the creations, and as a statement in response to the celebrity cults that dominated the fashion world of the 1990s.
Margiela demanded and received carte blanche from the Hermès CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas.
Innovations in terms of tailoring, technique and material, along with a new vision of fashion, led to collections designed from the point of view of the comfort of the wearer, its tactility, rather than the eye of the beholder.
Thanks for the kind image loans from:
Stany Dederen and Martin Bing (MoMu Collection photoshoots)
Etienne Tordoir (Catwalk Pictures)
Dan & Corina Lecca
Special thanks to the Antwerp 6+1